SNP’s word of the day: Counter-Earth

Illustration by Lewis Mirrett

Word: Counter-Earth

Usage: “I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last man on Counter-Earth.”

Meaning: a hypothetical planet, imagined by someone named Philolaus in ancient Greek times, before Socrates and when they still thought we all revolved around a “central fire” (Counter-Sun?). His word for it was beautiful: “Anticthon.”

You should know it because: The bizarro possibilities of a second—or a first?—Earth form the crux of Another Earth, the indie film everyone says you should see this summer. Directed by Mike Cahill and co-written by Brit Marling, who also stars—although she steadfastly refuses to shine—it poses looming questions in a delicate, fumbling way but never approaches the answers.

Scientific consensus has it that if such another Earth existed, we’d have seen it by now (there is, of course, an asterisk next to that, but I’m not neeeearly technically minded enough to provide the footnote; go ask your mom). Then again, scientific consensus once painted the Earth flat, as Marling’s character sort of pedantically points out. A budding astrophysicist, her bright university career is derailed on the night Earth Two (yes, that’s what they named it) is first seen, as she leans a little drunkenly out the window to see it. She (spoiler alert, but every review says this) kills a mother and child; the father survives. She spends four years in jail and emerges muted, stumbling. She finds the father, and the movie becomes a stranger-still mix of absolutely unbelievable shit and achingly realistic moments.

The notion of Counter-Earth has appeared in Marvel Comics, in serialized paperbacks for seventh-grade boys, and on sandwich boards held up by white people with dreadlocks in city squares. Once, in a Saturday Night Live skit, there was a man who believed fully in Anticthon; the planet was a Spot-the-Difference version of ours, with one of the few dissimilarities being the direction in which they ate their corn… I just realized this is adding nothing to the discussion.

Mostly I think Counter-Earth is a nearby dream, an expression of our belief in—as the New York Times’ Manohla Dargis wrote in her review of Another Earth—another, better life someplace else, whether it’s on another planet or the other side of the street. The idea that “Earth Two” contains a doppelganger for every person on “Earth One” is charming, but it also reflects a kind of planetary narcissism. Besides, don’t we already have another Earth, populated with other selves, the same but separate and, we believe, better? It’s called the internet.

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